PITTSBURG — Looking for something sweet?

Pittsburg High School Debate and Forensics is hosting its annual ice cream social to help bear the cost of going to the National Speech and Debate Tournament in June in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The ice cream social will be at 6:30 p.m. on Monday in the commons area of the Pittsburg High School. Tickets are $5 at the door. There will be a silent auction and a performance by the forensics team.

They’ve been selling cookie dough and fundraiser cards, as well as sponsorships to local businesses that will go on the back of the students’ nationals t-shirts.

“It’s been really been awesome with all the local businesses trying to help out … any little bit has been very helpful,” PHS Debate and Forensics Advisor Julie Laflen said.

Despite all of the sweets and ice cream, the end of the semester will be bittersweet as the program will be saying goodbye to seven seniors who are graduating this spring.

“It’s always hard to see seniors go, especially when you’ve seen some of them every day for four years,” Laflen said. “To watch them for four years is pretty awesome, you are really proud of all the work that they have accomplished and you hope they take the tools that they’ve learned in this program and use it to benefit their life.”

Three of these seniors — Gina Mathew, Cooper Johnson and Evie Shawn — will get to hang around for just a little while longer because they had made it to the national level.

Mathew has qualified for nationals all four years she has been in the program and was the first at PHS to do so.

“It’s very humbling and it has been such an honor to have achieved that,” she said. “Obviously to be the first to do so in the speech and debate program at the high school means that I am hopefully setting an example for the next generation of speakers to strive towards a goal and find out that hard work in the end pays off.

“I hope my experiences could be a testament to that.”

She joined the program in an effort to become part of a group and to develop her speech skills.

“I was not the most confident freshman coming in and that is one of the main things speech and debate has taught me, to be able to stand up in front of an audience and voice my opinions freely,” Mathew said.

Mathew said she plans to go to Rice University for a political science degree with a focus on international relations.

“I think speech and debate really motivated me towards that direction because of all the research I had to do with public policy,” she said. “That realm definitely intrigued me and made me curious about how foreign policy works and how the world interacts.

“I feel like I owe so much to the program for the skills and the relationships I’ve developed over time, I think that if the past 4 years have taught me anything that is not to be afraid to try anything

During nationals she will be participating in United States Extemporaneous speaking, a seven minute speech with only 30 minutes preparation prior.

For Johnson, this will be his second time around in nationals. During national qualifiers he and his partner had good marks in their affirmative and negative strategies in policy debate. He advocated for the use of magnet schools in the American education system and discussed Hazelwood versus Kuhlmeier, and for his negative strategy he argued about affirmative action plan.

“I really like to go to nationals because you get to compete at the highest level and that’s something I enjoy because you have an ability to meet people from all over the place,” he said. “You are not just meeting anybody, you are meeting other kids who are working really hard at the same events you do and have similar interests and who are also super competitive — you learn a lot from them.”

After graduation he is entering the Legal Education Accelerated Degree program at Kansas University to pursue a law degree.

This will be the first time going to nationals for Shawn. She participated in policy debate in the Fall and is going to nationals in world schools debate which is a team event with student representatives from different schools on one team.

One of her speeches from the qualifiers was about sex education and communication.

“What I was advocating for in that speech is that we need to be more open as a society in talking about that particular subject, especially when we look at the relationship between parents and children and understand the foundation of making that a taboo thing is founded within that relationship,” she said. “It’s a topic I have a lot of strong feelings about and that I felt like it was very important that I talked about.”

Shawn has plans to attend Pittsburg State University as an English major and to possibly pursue law school later on. She is also considering a position in advocacy.

“Being in debate and forensics has been really meaningful … I saw some many friends [before she joined] joining this program and I could see the manner in which it was benefiting them,” she said. “It seemed like one of those things I’d never be able to do much less experience any degree of success in it … It has allowed me to find better avenues of communication and ways to express myself, find more confidence and put myself out there in ways I never thought I could have.”

On top of nationals, some of the speech and debate team just came back from the state tournament with 11 students going into the semifinals, five into the finals and as a team took sixth out of 27 other 5A schools overall.  

“They’ve worked really hard to get to state level, every year we get a little bit closer to state trophy I'm very confident next year we will do even better, the younger kids are working hard to get to that state level and perform well,” Laflen said.

Giving opportunities

Business owners can purchase a space for their logo on the back of the students’ nationals t-shirts. Sponsorships cost $100. People can email Laflen for more information at julielaflen@usd250.org. From 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday 15 percent of Arby’s proceeds will go to the program. All people need to do is mention the PHS Debate and Forensics.  The students will be selling treats and water during Baja on Broadway on May 17 and Root Coffeehouse will be donating a portion of its proceeds on May 21.

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.